La Costa Canyon senior Kristy Clanton will be playing for the Lakers next year. No, she won’t be running with LeBron but will be part of a squad that has every bit the championship pedigree of its namesake in Los Angeles. The Mavericks’ soccer standout has committed to compete next season for NCAA Division II power Grand Valley State, which has been to the NCAA Final Four 10 times and won five NCAA Championships since 2006. But before the 5-6 striker heads back to Allendale, MI, she’s still got some work to do for her current team that is seeded seventh in the CIF Division I Championship which starts this week.
After sitting out the latter portion of 2018 with a bad ankle injury, Clanton has rebounded nicely in 2019 and finished the regular season as LCC’s top goal scorer with eight. La Costa Canyon Head Coach Natalie Eckerlin is a big fan of what the La Jolla-born Encinitas resident brings to her club. “As far as skills go, Kristy’s a smart player, hard-working, has good field vision and links up well with other players,” said Eckerlin, “but what makes her special is her ball-striking ability—technically, she is one of the best ball strikers I have ever seen. Her ability to strike a ball with power and accuracy with both feet, from different angles and distances is really impressive.”
A positive, out-going personality and the comfortable way she interacts with all of her teammates helps explain why Clanton was voted one of the LCC captains this season. With her prep career heading into its final weeks, the 17-year-old Clanton spent time sharing thoughts on her sport, her team and the decision to head to the Midwest for college.
Q—You tore two ligaments in your left ankle last January when you rolled it blocking a shot during practice. How difficult was it being on the sideline?
CLANTON—It was my first season on the varsity, I was starting, playing well and then missed all the fun at the end of the season with the CIF Playoffs. There were some benefits, though. I’ve never really had a long break with soccer since it’s pretty much year-round in California with the weather.
On the bench, I got to see everything much more clearly. I would notice teammates in my position, see how they played and was able to help them—tell them where to go, cheer them on, get them motivated.
It also made me a better player. When you’re a forward and you’re on the field, it’s kind of hard to see how defenders are playing you because you’re so close to them, but from the bench, you can see what they’re trying to do to stop forwards, how they push us and what techniques they use. Now I feel like I have a better understanding of how to attack certain defensive situations.
Q—How long did it take you to get back to 100 percent?
CLANTON—I was on crutches for two-to-three months, so I couldn’t run for three months and then I was able to just jog on the treadmill. I didn’t play any games for five months and by then it was club season. I felt like I had to earn my way back into it because everyone else had been playing straight through.
The toughest part was getting back the leg strength I’d lost. Every morning I’d get up and run on my own just to get my fitness back up so I wasn’t compensating for my left leg being weaker than my right. It took another month or two after I started playing to feel like I might have been close to 100 percent.
Q—You’ve scored eight goals this season, best on the team. In your opinion, what makes you a good goal scorer?
CLANTON—Like any other position, I need all of the teammates around me to help me get open and get me the ball in the right spots. You always have to be aware of where you are on the field in order to make good runs and get a chance on goal.
Mentally, you have to be someone who isn’t afraid to take chances and put yourself out there in order to make a change in the game. You also have to understand that you’re not going to score on every shot and make sure when it doesn’t go your way, to stay in the game and keep moving forward.
I think I have really good deliveries. I try to have the perfect weight on the ball and understand where a teammate’s run is going when I’m playing it to them.
Q—Fans tend to have an image of average striker as pretty self-centered—that doesn’t really sound like your style. Would you agree?
CLANTON—Well, I’m not always the most selfish player. I like to play with other people, make runs and keep passing. Honestly, I would rather find someone else’s run that looks better to me. Sometimes my coaches or my parents will tell me I had a wide-open shot and ask why I didn’t take it—it doesn’t always seem that way to me.
So, I guess I need to work at being a little more selfish and when I have the chance, be more aggressive, take people on and take advantage of my shot. I want to develop my game and not just be someone who will play the ball. If I’m able to keep the ball longer, I’ll get more shots on goal and be more valuable to my team.
Q—How did you develop your shot?
CLANTON—When I was younger, one of my club coaches, Edgar Anzaldo, taught me the right technique and said that technique was the key to having a great shot. I learned the techniques for different types of shots and practiced them all the time, making sure to do everything the right way. I kept improving and kept practicing because even with good technique, if you don’t continually work on it, you won’t have the power and range.
Q—Has this season been all you hoped it would be?
CLANTON—We were a very young team last year and we’re still relatively young this season but I feel we’ve improved quite a bit. Our chemistry is very strong. We all get along so well and that shows out on the field. In our last few regular season games, we’ve performed extremely well and I think everyone has started figuring out how to play with one another and how well-connected we are on the field
We played very well in our regular season finale against Torrey Pines and I think all of us are ready to give everything in CIF. I am so excited for CIF and ready to show I can make a difference in big games. I was so bummed that I couldn’t play last year, so this a last chance for redemption.
Q—You’ve lived in San Diego your whole life, an area where you can play soccer outdoors pretty much 12 months out of the year. How did Allendale, Michigan get into the picture for college?
CLANTON—Grand Valley State reached out to me through one of my recruiting websites the first day a Division II school could contact prospects. I didn’t know anything about it and kind of pushed it to the side, but kept them on the list. I missed all of their camps but eventually when my parents and I started looking at different schools a little more closely, we saw that it might be a pretty good potential option.
Q—How did you come to the decision that Grand Valley State was the place for you?
CLANTON—When I was looking for schools, I knew I didn’t want a huge school but I didn’t want a small school either (GVSU has an enrollment of just over 21,000). I also wanted somewhere that had a lot of school spirit. When I visited, I got to go to a football game and had a chance to see everyone walking around and interacting on campus. I loved the campus. It’s beautiful and has a great mix of old and new buildings that give it a lot of character.
I got to spend the whole day with the girls on the team. They made me feel so comfortable, it was like I was already one of them. At their camp, I got I was able to see the coaching styles of all the coaches there and it seemed to perfectly fit my style of play and was similar to that of previous coaches that I have liked.
Soccer-wise, it is really an amazing program that has achieved a lot of success and had a lot of support. I know it will be different than what I’m used to, a different environment, a different culture, but I think I will be able to handle it and make the most out of it.
Q—Are there any soccer players that you have admired or patterned your game after?
CLANTON—I have always admired Alex Morgan from the U.S. Women’s National Team. She is an incredible goal scorer and can always make opportunities out of nothing. She also has a perfect blend of when to be selfish and when to be selfless out on the field.
Q—What is it like playing for your coach, Natalie Eckerlin? How has she helped improve your game?
CLANTON—I love playing for Coach Nat. She played soccer at LCC and in college so she has the perfect insight and knowledge of the game to help all of us get better at our specific positions. She has helped me bring out some of my strongest attributes, take chances, and not be afraid to make mistakes. She is always encouraging and looking out for our best interests.
Q—You have a cumulative GPA of 3.9 at La Costa Canyon. Any idea what direction you’re going to go academically at Grand Valley State?
CLANTON—I’m still unsure about a major at GVSU and will go in “undecided.” I have always loved math and science classes so that may be a possible direction. My favorite is anatomy which I’m currently taking with Ms. (Cindi) Schildhouse. I love learning about all the different parts and functions of the body.
Q—Let’s talk about some of your teammates. With the game on the line, who would you want taking a penalty kick? Who is the toughest defender to beat one-on-one? Who is the best player in the air? Smartest player? One with “special skills” off the field?
CLANTON—I would want Kylie Stirling to take it the penalty kick. She is amazing at free kicks and has confidence on ball. Paige Hays is the hardest defender to beat one-on-one. She goes in strong for all her tackles and is able to get back with speed. I think Mikaela Dougherty is the best player in air. She plays volleyball and is able to jump high which is critical. The smartest player, I think is Lorena Villa. She sees the field well and uses her skill to take people on and create chances. Outside of soccer, Riley Laver might have the most skills. She is a multi-sport athlete and also loves to sing for fun (karaoke).
Q—When you’re not playing soccer or in school, what do you like to do with your spare time?
CLANTON—I like to hang out with my friends. We like to watch sunsets and go to the beach. I also enjoy hanging out with my older sister, Kelly, who played softball at Santa Fe Christian and now at USD, and our two golden retrievers, Kai and Koa.
I’ve also been part of the National Charity League (NCL) since seventh grade. It’s a mother-daughter organization where we put in a certain number of hours per year working around the community. One of the programs I enjoy working with is Meals on Wheels where we serve dinners at La Posada men’s shelter.